I’D RATHER SEE A SERMON
T. PIERCE BROWN
Some who read the title of his article would agree because they do not like to hear sermons anyway. Most of us have probably heard or quoted Edgar A. Guests’s “Sermons We See” many times: “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day; I’d rather one would walk with me than merely tell the way. The things that you are saying may be very fine and true, but I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do.” If we have quoted that or the rest of the very good poem, we have probably thought of or quoted along with it the passage of Matthew 5:16, which says, “Even so let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Every commentary I ever remember reading about that verse, and every sermon I have ever preached or heard preached made it appear that Jesus is saying, “Let your good deeds be seen before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father.” I am going to suggest today that after about sixty years of reading it and thinking of it that way, I have decided he probably meant something a little different.
There is no question that our good deeds should be seen in a light that would glorify God. But let us raise some questions and at least provide you with a slightly different exegesis of the passage.
Suppose a person sees you buying shoes for some poor boy. He knows you, and knows you are a member of the Rotary Club, and belong to some church — maybe even the Lord’s church. But does he automatically glorify God by what he sees, or will he as likely glorify you or the club? Or suppose he sees you buying glasses for some person who can not see very well. He may know that you are a member of the Lion’s Club and belong to some (or no) church. Does that deed cause him to glorify God? If so, why would it? And if not, why not?
I submit to you that it does not! The only way he can know the motive, purpose, reason, and attitude you have is for you to let it be known by words!
Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my pathway.” The principle applies here. Suppose a person sees a minister of the Gospel, a Baptist preacher and a Jehovah’s Witness each baptize 30 persons. Who or what is glorified? How and why? Suppose he sees you come to the assembly, take the Lord’s Supper and give generously. Does he know why, unless he is told? If he does not know why, may he not as well assume that you are obeying some “church ordinance” related to some man-made organization that has nothing whatever to do with salvation and admitted by those who uphold it to be non-essential? If so, who gets the glory?
Since it seems improbable that Jesus is saying, “Let your good works be seen that your good works may be seen and your Father thus glorified,” and since it seems impossible that seeing good works without hearing the words that prompted them would give glory to the right one, we suggest the following exegesis of the passage. “Let the light of the gospel message and God’s Word in general be so presented before men that they may (in the light of that message) see what you are doing and glorify God.”
Remember that Jesus began both to “do and to teach” (Acts 1:2). If one teaches without doing, he is probably a hypocrite. If one does without teaching, he is in danger of allowing the glory to be given to the wrong person or thing!
Can you imagine Peter on Pentecost saying, “I just do not think it necessary to say anything about the risen Lord, or the plan of salvation. It embarrasses me to tell people they are wrong and need to be saved. I would rather take the high road and just let them see the power of the Holy Spirit at work in my life!” If you have that vivid imagination, you would probably make a success as a denominational preacher!
If the entrance of the Word of God gives light (Psalm 119:130), then we need to be teaching that Word, so that in the light of that Word, men may see whatever good we do and glorify God. If you have missed my point, it is that your light cannot shine and glorify God merely by doing good works, but by teaching God’s Word so that when you do good works those who see will know they are related to God’s will.
If you have been perverting dear old Edgar’s quotation from his excellent poem in order to justify your failure to do your part in carrying out the Great Commission, let me urge you to cease and desist forthwith! As important as our actions are, it is impossible to do all the teaching for which you are responsible merely by your actions. “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans1:16). Since that gospel includes facts to be believed, commands to be obeyed, and promised to be enjoyed, including motives and reasons for doing what is done, it cannot possibly be presented solely by living. Such cute little expressions as “Christianity is as much caught as taught” have a point, but that does not excuse us from being personal evangelists-speaking God’s Word.
One nice thing about an article like this: Even if my exegesis is wrong, my conclusion surely is bound to be right! Surely there is no question among Bible students that God cannot be properly glorified without words and deeds.